No shot has been fired along the Indo-China border since the 1962 war. But frequent incursions by Chinese troops — despite a border cooperation pact in October 2013 — have kept Indian forces on their toes.
India has 3,00,000 troops — comprising four Army Corps, 53 battalions of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), and the military-like Ladakh, Arunachal and Sikkim Scouts — to counter a Chinese threat. Half of them are deployed within 100 km of the indistinct Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating India and China-controlled Tibet.
The 3,488 km LAC, at an average of 13,800 ft, runs from the Karakoram Pass in Ladakh to Jachep La in Arunachal Pradesh. More than the terrain and sub-zero temperatures, poor infrastructure and accessibility hinder proper policing along this border. On the other hand, it is easier for Chinese troops.
The comparison was summed up by BJP MP Tarun Vijay after he returned from Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Nathula in Sikkim: “Vehicles crawl at 20-25 kmph on the Indian side of the border. The Chinese can move at 120-140 kmph on their side.”
Nathula and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh have roads unlike much of the border, particularly 10 trouble spots often targeted by Chinese troops. Even the traditional route to Kailash via Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand is poorly maintained, besides being landslide-prone.
Connectivity affects timely reaction. ITBP personnel had to trek 70 km from their Chaglagam outpost in Arunachal Pradesh’s Anjaw district when Chinese troops came 20 km inside India in August 2013.
The state governments and locals want the LAC fortified too.
“Lack of basic amenities and livelihood are forcing border residents to migrate to urban areas deeper inside. This is a cause for concern, as is the NDA government’s inclination to put on hold defence expansion plans and cut down on expenditure on border infrastructure. If you can’t make roads, don’t talk about trains to the China border,” Takam Sanjoy, former Arunachal Pradesh MP, said. New Delhi has also been slow in deciding on funding strategic airports near the border — such as Rangrik at 12,000 ft in Himachal Pradesh — for faster movement of troops.
In the way, too, is New Delhi’s reluctance to put ITBP under the army, say defence experts.